It’s time, I think. It’s time to put away the boomboxes. Time to put away the scrunchies. Remove Simply Red from our playlists. And take the bras off our heads. The world has moved on. It hurts me as much as anyone to admit this, but it’s time we retired the John Hughes’ archetypes. In 2009, they just don’t fit anymore. Even Hughes, the 1980’s Salinger — who is holed up somewhere in Wisconsin out of the public’s eye — has moved on. It’s time that the rest of Hollywood does the same.
A couple of years ago, television critic Larry Doyle wrote this splendid little coming-of-age novel called I Love You, Beth Cooper. It was a brilliant piece of Hughesian fiction, one of my favorite books of the last five years, and one that borrowed from the entire Hughes oeuvre and a few other movies from the era. It worked because, by and large, it was targeted toward the people who grew up then. We got it. We understood it. The characters were paying homage to largely fake constructs that we categorized ourselves only in retrospect — we identified ex post facto. We probably all thought we were Ferris Buellers at the time; it took a few years of self-reflection to realize that we were probably closer to Wyatt Donnelly.
But the movie? It’s crap. You can’t transplant the spirit of an entire era, and even if you could, what teenager now is going to understand it? Granted, I Love You, Beth Cooper, the movie, is faithful to the word of the book (it was adapted by Doyle), and even the characters look the part — you couldn’t have found, in Paul Rust, a better representation of the Dennis Cooverman on the book’s dust jacket. Jack Carpenter’s ambiguously gay Rich Munch is picture perfect, and even Hayden Panettiere looks the part, even if she’s about as talented as an actress as Martha Dumptruck was skinny. Hell, it was even a nice touch to get Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Cameron Frye) to play Cooverman’s dad.
But it all absolutely fails under the outdated direction of Chris Columbus. There’s no other way to explain it: They looked the parts, they said the right words, and yet, I Love You, Beth Cooper is somewhere in Egypt’s land, along with Cameron Frye’s blank, distant stare. It possesses absolutely no energy; there’s not an ounce of magic. Unlike the novel, it doesn’t feel like an homage to Hughes; it feels like a badly dated, straight-to-video, humorless, heartless, pale imitation, which is all the more shocking because Larry Doyle’s novel felt like a movie.
I Love You, Beth Cooper opens during a high-school graduations ceremony, where Dennis Cooverman (Rust), the class valedictorian, decides to make it a dare to be great situation and profess his unyielding love for Beth Cooper (Panettiere) in front of the whole class, and Cooper’s older boyfriend. Beth is remarkably sanguine about it, and even decides — with her two best friends — to attend Cooverman’s graduation party, which consists of only Cooverman and his best friend, Rich, a possibly gay theater nerd who spends the entire movie quoting older movies (funny in the book; obnoxious on the screen). Of course, Beth’s military boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts, who is part Can’t Hardly Wait’s Peter Facinelli and part Weird Science’s Chet) shows up, wreaks some mayhem, beats on Cooverman, and triggers the night-long chase, from party, to high school, and finally, to a cabin in the woods. Blood is spilled. Pratfalls are had. Panties are exposed.
Meanwhile, Cooverman — who somehow epitomizes all of Anthony Michael Hall’s early work without actually capturing any of it — begins to realize that Beth — part Heather, part Claire Standish, and part Can’t Hardly Wait’s Amanda — isn’t exactly the mythic woman he’d idealized through four years of high school. Of course, through the night’s Adventures in Babysitting, sans babysitting, Cooverman begins to fall for the girl he gets to know, although Beth is insightful enough to realize that Cooverman’s life is ahead of him, while hers will essentially end the day after graduation, a notion that felt immensely more bittersweet on the page.
There’s never been an official remake of any of John Hughes’ classic 1980s comedies, but there’s an unofficial one, it seems, a few times a year, made by folks who grew up on Hughes but haven’t seen the inside of a high school in 15 or 20 years. It’s been about 32 years for Chris Columbus, who directed I Love You, Beth Cooper. It’s nice sentiment and all, but you can’t make a Hughesian film for today’s teenagers. It’s a Superbad world, and Farmer Ted has no place in it. He belongs in the basement, with that box of VHS tapes with all the episodes of “21 Jump Street” on them. Nobody cares about the football team’s quarterback or the captain of the cheerleading squad anymore; it’s archaic. High schoolers trade in a different kind of currency now, and I’ve been out of high school long enough not to try making a guess as to what it is.
But what I can tell you is this: I Love You, Beth Cooper doesn’t understand it any better than I do. Unfortunately, instead of conceding that point and simply making a movie targeted toward 30-somethings aching for a nostalgic trip back to the worst years of their lives (see Adventureland), I Love You, Beth Cooper tries to fit Ducky into a generation more preoccupied with Twilight and Facebook friends than they are being the prom queen. Life moves fast. And Chris Columbus never stopped to look around long enough to notice that it’d passed him by.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. You can email him or leave a comment below.